Another Andrew Lloyd Webber masterpiece brings itself to life at the Orpheum Theater in Minneapolis, January 29th – February 2nd. Evita, the story of Argentine political leader Eva Perón, is like most Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals – filled with compelling music but lacking in story-telling. With no book, Evita attempts to tell this powerful story solely through song, like many English musicals written in the 1970s and 80s. Unfortunately, this leads to widespread confusion about what’s actually going on.
This touring production is of the 2012 Broadway revival of Evita, originally produced on Broadway in 1979. The music is of the usual rock opera style that characterizes Lloyd Webber’s musicals. Mixed with Latin motifs, the music amplifies the importance of and utter power that Eva Perón achieved by her death in 1952.
The costumes and massive sets, designed by Christopher Oram, contribute to the 1940s Latin feel of the show which is otherwise lost in the mostly white, contemporary, American sounding cast. The Tango (which originated in Argentina) appears throughout the musical as an emotional platform and a visual link to the Argentine setting, thanks to the brilliant choreography of Rob Ashford and Chris Bailey. Another beneficial aspect is, surprisingly, the use of screen projections, designed by Zachary Borovay. Projections usually kill a show, but in the case of Evita, the projections of real footage of the mass grieving of Eva’s death provide context to the time and place of the story. Although the contemporary characteristics of the performers hinder the believability of the time period and geographical setting, the visual design enables the audience to connect the show back to Argentina in the first half of the 20th century.
Although the story is often lost, the performers are a treat to watch, even when it is not clear what is going on. The actress who basically carries the show, much as Eva carried the country, is Caroline Bowman as, of course, Eva. Eva Perón is one of the hardest parts ever written for women to sing and Bowman tackles the score masterfully. She belts to impressive heights in the crowd-favorite act one finale “A New Argentina”, sings the soft emotional “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina”, and on top of it all shows off her phenomenal dancing chops in “Buenos Aires”. There seems to be nothing she can’t do.
Another standout performance is that of Josh Young as Che. Based off of Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara, Che acts as narrator of the story. Unfortunately, in the revival of Evita, the character of Che is much less a personification of Che Guevara, and more a generic Argentine peasant. By stripping Che of his historical context, his meaning and relevance is also stripped. Even so, Young gives a powerful, energetic performance, tearing down the house in his buoyant number “And the Money Kept Rolling In”.
Every performance in this touring production of Evita is dynamic, leading to an overall epic, although chaotic, telling of the story of “an actress called Eva Perón”.